Tyagaraja, the Illumined Composer

Prajna Bhattacharya

Tyagaraja, also known as Tyāgayya, was a renowned composer of Carnatic music, which is a form of Indian classical music. He was prolific and highly influential in the developmen

When he sang, Sri Rama, Mother Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman listened…

t of India’s classical music. Tyagaraja is the most revered of the outstanding trio of composer-musicians of Carnatic music in the 18th century.  Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are referred to as ‘The Trinity of Carnatic music’, also known as ‘The Three Jewels of Carnatic music’.  The Trinity of Carnatic music is known for creating a new era in the history of Carnatic music by bringing a noticeable change in the then Carnatic music tradition. Compositions of the Trinity of Carnatic music are recognized as being distinct in style and original in handling ragas. All three composers were born in Thiruvarur, formerly part of Thanjavur District in Tamilnadu. Muthuswami Dikshitar mainly composed in Sanskrit, while Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri mainly composed in Telugu.

 

Tyāgarāja was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur in present-day Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu. The child prodigy Tyāgarāja began his musical training at an early age under Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a music scholar. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience God’s love. His compositions focused on expression, rather than on the technicalities of classical music. His compositions are mainly of a devotional or philosophical nature. His songs feature himself usually either in an appeal to his deity of worship, in musings or giving a message to the public. He has also composed krithis in praise of Krishna, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Muruga, Saraswati and Hanuman.

He was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. In his praise and honour he wrote numerous musical operas and about 24000 songs, a claim that has been speculated among music historians. Out of those songs, only about 700 songs survived. As per the oral tradition, all these songs are passed on from a teacher to a student and are sung till date. Tyagaraja himself had several illustrious students who took his musical legacy ahead. Among the famous ones is Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar.

Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, mostly in Telugu and in praise of Lord Rama, many of which remain popular today. Five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Kritis (English: “five gems”) are often sung in programs in his honour.

Tyagaraja’s krithi Vara Nārada refers to his worship of the celestial saga Narada. Tyagaraja, meditating a mantra invoking Narada received a vision of Narada and was blessed with the book Svarārnavam by the sage.

Tyagaraja lived a long and austere life, and passed away on a Pushya Bahula Panchami day, 6 January 1847, at the age of 79. All througfh his life, he was an ardent devotee of Sri Rama. Rama would hear His devotee sing. On 27 December 1846, Tyagaraja had a glorious vision. He saw in the vision Sri Rama in Lanka, about to begin his war. The vision brought about a tremendous transformation in Tyagaraja. Rama told Tyagaraja that he would leave his body ten days later. His last composition before death was Giripai Nelakonna (rāga Sahāna, Ādi tāḷam). He was buried at the banks of the Kaveri River at Thiruvaiyaru.

The life and music of Tyagaraja has been a subject of a few films. The best one remains the film ‘Thyagayya’ made in 1946 by Chittor V Nagaiah, which was shot at the original locations where Tyagaraja lived and moved around.

 

 

The samadhi memorial of Sri Tyagaraja

The Tyagaraja Aradhana is the world’s largest gathering of musicians and music practitioners of one genre at any point of time. This ceremony is held every year on the anniversary of the demise of the saint on Pushya Bahula Panchami day, conducted by the Sri Thyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha in the precincts of the samadhi (memorial) of the saint located at Thiruvaiyaru village, Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, India. All the five Pancharatnas of Tyagaraja are sung by all the musicians–young and old, famous and unknown–together at this festival.

 

Renowned musicians at the memorial of Tyagaraja on his birth anniversary, singing the five Gems. [Pancharatna kritis]

While he had intense suffering, he also had intermittent visions of the Lord. A song from Tyagaraja, expressing his bliss at having the vision of Rama, is touching:

pâhi râma râma yanuchu bhajana seyave

“Sing in chorus “Pâhi Râma Râma”. When I was filled with deep affectionate devotion, I had the darshana of Sîtâkânta, Sri Rama with Mother Sita. Sri Rama spoke to me endearingly and filled my heart with bliss. At that time, Lakshmana stood by, smartly dressed, and Sri Rama cast his benign look at him. There was Bharata, brimming with supreme joy, and Rama embraced him. I saw mighty shatrughna absorbed in contemplation. I saw Hanuman at His feet and Rama affectionately spoke to him.  When will it be given to me to be blessed to sing the glories of all these with devotion?”

 


Music is divine. Properly used, music leads to the Divine. Sri Ramakrishna, Mother and Swamiji, all loved music immensely. Bhagavan Sri Chaitanya Deva began the tradtition of kirtana. All for God. The tradition of music is ancient, It is Veda itself.  Each month, we bring you news and contributions about music.

Mrs Prajnaparamita Bhattacharya

is the Contributing Editor

of this page.